Raised an Anglican with links to the Quakers, my parents were very surprised when I became a Catholic when I married a Catholic at 23. They objected to what they saw to be low standards of moral development and an unexamined participation in religion which allowed Catholics a free cycle of sin and repentance. Confession was a major indicator – “why not just change your own ways and do the right thing.” Catholics they believed had a childish, external locus of control that allowed a dominant priesthood, they cited examples of priests in their experience who displayed little evidence of developed faith understanding or moral conscience but were oriented towards ritual, “just going through the motions.” Citing Francis’ call in 2013 for the church to study a theology of womanhood, the editors say “such comments reduce women to objects of study, a separate category of reflection.”
I have now spent 45 years actively participating in Catholic religion as wife, parent, grandparent and overall a mystically spiritual person, a reader of theology, a seeker of wisdom and a feminist. By now, I think I can see too well and too much of how the Church became the way it is as popes and the Roman curia historically mediated the Christian message turning on the taps of grace here and turning them off there to channel conformable faith their own way. As a historian recovering less-heard stories of women in the Catholic Church, to some extent I find women have always followed religious codes that were meaningful in their own experience of God. The real sadness is the silencing of other, more apostolic religious codes and the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Sensus fidei in order to preserve the ecclesiocentric ordering. A teaching church, the ordained priesthood obedient to the hierarchical Magisterium insists on dividing itself from a sinful, passive lay people and a secular world they brand the the ‘contamination of the world’ – surely an insult delivered upon God’s creation. Distorted perceptions at the top of the hierarchy of what humanity actually is and what creation is, even what God is have become all too evident.
My research into the history of women in Church history has saved my faith and been my salvation. Feminist theology has been my lifeline to God although I attend Mass weekly and consider the Eucharistic community of my parish and the wider national and global Church essential to my faith too.
I speak with all Catholic women who say they resist any suggestion that the Church needs a theology of ‘Woman’ or ‘womanhood,'” A changed ecclesiology of the Church with more women represented in leadership positions in representative numbers and doctrinal development is urgently required to restore authenticity. Rather than a deeper theology of women, the Church needs a deeper theology of human communities and the religious codes that they live by. The values that stabilise expectations, express Christ’s principle of love and teaching on right-relation and justice are what characterise successful families. The ecclesia should abandon complementarity as a really badly thought out idea that is harmful to human development and encourage a sharing of tasks in the family as they care relationally with others from the cradle to the tomb. The full inclusion of women starts with changed perception at the level of the higher ecclesia through listening, studying and taking informed advice so that a newly rendered theological anthropology can be developed that matches the experiential realities of daily life as hallowed, valued, evolving creation. The Trinitarian and Marian writings of feminist theologians provide us with the necessary continuity on which to base changed doctrine yet they are ignored and scarcely cited, even by their male peers. My research experience is the reason for my enduring Catholic faith.